Valley Health officials urge safety during corporate meeting

WINCHESTER — Valley Health CEO Mark Merrill opened up the Valley Health corporation meeting Tuesday by talking about plane crashes.

“Nuclear power plants and aviation have been increasingly safe over the years, to where now planes are as safe as they’ve ever been,” Merrill said.

More metaphors and comparisons came later on in the meeting. Nicolas Restrepo, vice president for medical affairs at Winchester Medical Center, brought up naval ships and the Joint Commission, which is described on its website as “an independent, not-for-profit organization” that “accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States.”

“The current CEO of the Joint Commission, a gentleman by the name of Mark Chassin, actually spent time going on naval ships studying what it is about a naval ship and the naval community that enabled them to do such highly complicated tasks over and over again with very few unintended consequences,” Restrepo said.

But the discussion was always about health care.

“How do we incorporate those kinds of work into health care?” Merrill asked.

By looking at these different fields, Restrepo said, Valley Health could gain insight into how to reduce errors, streamline processes and better take care of patients.

One of the ways to do this, Restrepo said, is by anticipating potential problems before they really become big.

“You’re sitting at home, you hear a little bit of water on the ceiling above you,” Restrepo said. “You go to investigate why is the water dripping; you fix it. You don’t sit there until the drywall floods and say, ‘You know what, it’s a leak.'”

Restrepo said that hospitals can also respond to errors they make and figure out how to correct them in the future.

On both fronts, Restrepo said that Valley Health has seen major improvements in the past five years. The hospitals have been admitting cardiac patients at increasingly fast rates.

Restrepo said that last year, the hospitals knew on average what procedures they planned on performing on potential cardiac patients before the patients entered the door.

Meanwhile, the rate of infections has dropped at the hospitals, Restrepo said. During a 10-month period, Restrepo said, no central line infections were recorded, a sign of a sterile work environment.

Restrepo credited the changes to the work Valley Health has done in the past five years. In that time frame, Restrepo said, the hospitals have had increasingly frequent discussions about safety.

They now have safety calls twice a day, including on weekends.

But Restrepo said he still plans on continuing to improve the hospitals’ safety. He said that he wouldn’t be satisfied until the hospitals do their procedures correctly, and without error, 100 percent of the time.

Still, he acknowledged that hospitals will have some errors occur.

“We realize that we have a bunch of humans working together as we do these complicated tasks,” Restrepo said.